This week and next, I am up in Meeker Park, Colorado, presenting at the Luther Academy of the Rockies. It is a pretty amazing event–this is the 80th anniversary of the event, which makes it one of the longest running theological continuing education events in the Lutheran Church, if not in the country! Luther Academy was first started by Dr. Michael Reu in the summer of 1937, at Wartburg Seminary; and it moved to the Rockies in 1969. Meeker Park is an absolutely gorgeous setting, and we take full advantage: lectures are in the morning, and the afternoons are free for hiking! [And for going down to Estes Park to check email and make phone calls–there is no cell or internet service in Meeker Park. That is a challenge, to say the least!]
This year, I have the special privilege of presenting with my dear friend Sam Giere, a classmate of mine at Wartburg, who started his academic position at Wartburg the same year I started mine at Gettysburg. It has been great seeing him and his smart, beautiful daughter Shonagh, and catching up. Anyway, in his presentation a few days ago, Sam shared an idea that he got from another one of our good colleagues, Rob Saler. Rob advocates a shift from a concern about the “relevance” of the church to a focus on “resonance.” Basically [as Sam presented it], Rob’s point is that talking about the church’s relevance actually can restrict the gospel, as well as our own imaginations, as it can be overly proscriptive in determining how some specific doctrine/practice does or does not relate to the contemporary context. By contrast, to seek resonance invites more creativity and imagination, and opens multiple possibilities for thinking about how the church might best speak and embody grace, forgiveness and love in any particular situation. I hadn’t thought about that distinction, but now I’m really struck by the insight–it makes lots of sense to me, and I like the potential it holds.
However, having said that, I’m also not prepared to give up relevance altogether. Sam and I had an interesting discussion about the merit of the ELCA’s Social Statements. From his perspective [and personal experience], he feels like the Social Statements can function too much like dogma, and they end up both dividing congregations and also supplanting the gospel as the core message of the church. [If I’m wrong here, Sam, you’ll have to comment & correct me!] I, on the other hand, think that the Social Statements are one of the best things the ELCA does as a church, and I am so grateful to belong to a denomination that wrestles seriously with the faith and comes out with explicit teachings about how Lutheran theology and practice relates to contemporary ethical and social issues, like Criminal Justice, Human Sexuality, the Death Penalty, and the Environment. The current Social Statement that is in the study phase is on women and justice–talk about an issue that is of critical importance! [If you are interested, and want to download materials, you can find them here: Faith, Sexism and Justice .
So, I guess I want to argue for both the resonance and relevance of the Christian faith, the gospel, and the proclamation of the church in the world. Each seems to me to be very necessary, and very life-giving, both to those inside the church and those outside it.